Monday 31 December 2012

Alpaca and Other Christmas Gifts

Auld Mill Alpaca yarn

I was given some very nice presents for Christmas this year - several books, and some alpaca yarn, amongst other good things.  The yarn is from a farm in Scotland, near Elgin in Morayshire - two 100g. balls of it.  Each ball-band names the alpaca the yarn came from: Jasmine is a sort of cinnamon colour, and Eartha is a slightly darker brown.  (The Auld Mill Alpacas web site describes Jasmine as "mid fawn" and Eartha as "light brown", which seem very boring colour names, but evidently they have specific meanings to alpaca farmers.)   The yarn is so, so soft - it needs to be worn next to the skin, so I'll knit something like a scarf with it.  I'd also like to show off the two different colours - it needs some thought. 

Christmas books (and DVDs)

One of the books is Sandy Black's Knitting: Fashion, Industry and Craft.  I have coveted it since I saw it at the In the Loop conference in September.   I was also given A History of the World in 100 Objects, by Neil McGregor, Director of the British Museum, based on the series of radio talks he did in 2010, and Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel.  That is a seriously hefty book - I'll need a big, straightforward knitting project to do while I'm reading it.  There are a few more on my Christmas pile, too, not to mention the books I'm reading for my two book groups - I'm looking forward to a lot of reading and a lot of knitting.

Happy New Year.

Saturday 29 December 2012

Mazy Mitts

Now that Christmas Day is past, I can write about a pair of fingerless gloves/mitts that I made for my daughter as a Christmas gift.  I have made her fingerless mitts before, with a single opening for the fingers, even though she asked me for fingerless gloves - I said that knitting four little stumps for the fingers would be far too fiddly.

But then I came across a (free) pattern in Issue 41 (Deep Fall 2012) of Knitty    Phalangees by Jodie Gordon Lucas  allows you to have separate finger openings in fingerless mitts without breaking the yarn.  A brilliant idea, if you ask me.

This is what the finger openings look like.  Essentially, you knit a round that creates the finger openings in a figure of eight fashion, and so joins the front and back of the hand together between the fingers, and then you cast off in a similar way.   (Although I didn't do it in quite the way that the pattern specified.  I also made the finger openings different sizes, as you can probably see from the photo - the second finger opening is a bit bigger than the others and the little finger slightly smaller - in the pattern they are all the same size.)

I did find it very tricky to knit the joining rounds and finish off, I must admit.  It was maybe partly because I was using double pointed needles - I prefer them for knitting small things like mitts, and I didn't have any circular needles of the right size.  The pattern recommends one or two circular needles- that might have been easier though I'm not sure that it would.  At one point I was using a small forest of DPNs (14 of them) to go round the figure of eight curve....

So it was awkward - but not as much work as knitting the fingers separately.  I did the thumb in the conventional way - the method specified in the pattern seemed a bit obscure and required breaking the yarn anyway, so I just did the usual thing. 

The two-colour maze pattern is from Phalangees too, though you could use the technique with any kind of stitch pattern on the palm part of the mitts.  The maze pattern is very striking, though, and I wanted to see how it's done.  It's simple to knit - it looks as though you knit with both colours at the same time, taking the colour not in use across the back of the fabric, but in fact each round is worked with only one colour, using a slip-stitch technique to skip over the stitches that should be in the other colour.

I am really proud of the finished result - I think they look very good and will be very warm.   And they fit, I am glad to say.

Monday 24 December 2012

Another Year in Books

Last year I made Christmas cards for one of my book groups with a photo of some of the books we had read.   It made a nice card, and several members of the group told me that they had kept theirs as a record.  The card created an instant tradition, and this Christmas I made a similar one, showing all the books we have read in 2012.

This year's books were:
  • Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad
  • Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending
  • Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
  • David Lodge, A Man of Parts
  • Raymond Carver, Beginners
  • Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Angel's Game
  • Beth Gutcheon, Still Missing
  • Marina Lewycka, Various Pets Alive & Dead
Of the nine books, my top choice would be Still Missing. I can't say that it's an enjoyable read, because it deals with a parent's worst nightmare, a missing child. But it was gripping and very convincing in portraying how the parents and the people around them got through the aftermath of the disappearance as best they could.  The edition that we read is a re-issue by Persephone, and so was beautifully produced, a pleasure to hold. 

Happy reading in 2013. 

Friday 21 December 2012

My Color Affection

I am knitting a shawl to a pattern called Color Affection (spelt that way, i.e. American fashion), by the Finnish designer Veera Välimäki.  It's a very popular pattern, with nearly 7000 projects in Ravelry.  I chose it because it's basically a very simple garter stitch pattern, but with some technically interesting aspects involving short rows (though I haven't got to those yet),  and you get to pick three colours of yarn that you would like to put together.  And because it's so cold just now, I like the idea of an extra light warm layer to wrap around me.

I'm knitting it in pure alpaca (Artesano Alpaca 4-ply, beautifully soft).  The colours are gray (don't know what that's called) with Poinsettia (a sort of soft red-pink-orange) and Demerara (a light toffee brown).  The last two colours have been discontinued, which is a pity, but I managed to find enough left by searching on-line.

I am almost at the point where the third colour (Demerara) is introduced.  That will be exciting, because I get to see what the three colours look like together in stripes, and the short rows start at that point so the overall shape gets more interesting.

I'm sure that I shall like the finished shawl, but in spite of being entirely garter stitch it's not actually fulfilling its intended role of being a straightforward piece of knitting that I can do while reading or watching TV.   It has to be knitted on a circular needle, because the rows get very long (they start off with only 3 stitches, but by now I've got more than 260 and eventually there will be 387).  On a circular needle, I am by now much faster knitting Continental style than English style, and knitting English style seems impossibly clumsy. But I can't knit Continental style without looking at what I'm doing.  (It's a bit like giving up sugar in coffee.  I remember that there comes a point where coffee tastes bad both with sugar and without.)   I'm choosing to knit fast and not look at anything else at the same time, i.e. Continental style.  I do need some TV knitting, though - I have several episodes of The Killing III saved up to watch, but I don't want to watch them without doing some knitting at the same time.  It will have to be something like plain stocking stitch on two needles, so that I can read the subtitles while knitting.

Friday 14 December 2012

1940s Patterns from Emu

Emu Knitpat no. 5
I mentioned a few weeks ago here that I had been sorting some Emu pattern leaflets at Lee Mills, while looking for patterns designed by Mary Quant.  In the process, I sorted all the earliest Emu leaflets, that date from the 1940s.  (Not that I expected to find a Mary Quant design, but they have to be sorted some time.)

I don't know what the history of Emu yarns is, but the leaflets we have appear to be the earliest that they issued (we have leaflet No.2, though not No. 1).  It seems an odd time to launch a new range of patterns - there were paper shortages then, as well as clothes rationing, and so the leaflets are only half the size of the later Emu leaflets (about 13.5 cm x 21 cm., or 5.25 x 8.25 inches).

Many of the designs are very attractive.  No.5 (above) is my favourite - 1940s jumpers and cardigans often have exaggerated square shoulders, but this one has a more or less natural shoulder line.  Like several of the leaflets, it has an editorial piece from Janet Minton - the name was given as the source of customer advice on Emu patterns until at least the 1960s.  On pattern no. 5, she says 'This Jumper-Cardigan is an exclusive Anthony Walden design.  Fashion points to note are the effective contrast of classic square neckline, emphasized by a moss-stitch band, with the delicate flower-stitch pattern and clever crochet buttons.  Knit it in "Emu" Botany Fingering and it will emerge perfect after every washing.'  It was very unusual at that time to name the designer of a pattern - several of the other Emu patterns from the 1940s were also designed by Anthony Walden, but I can't find out anything about him (i.e. Google doesn't know).

Emu Knitpat No. 27
Another of his designs is the Lady's Jerkin in leaflet 27.  Of this one, Janet Minton says 'Ideal to wear over a blouse with slacks or skirt, this jerkin does jacket service for sportswear. It is an Anthony Walden design which means that it fits like a tailor-made and has a touch of distinction allied to simplicity.  Patterned panels in an unusual cable stitch on a purl background are used effectively down the front and sides.  The shaping is worked at the inside edge of the panels instead of at the side, this keeps the patterned panel straight and unbroken yet ensures a streamline fit.'  It is made in glove cord, which is presumably cotton - the message 'Made from 4 ozs. per coupon yarn' refers to clothes rationing and means, I think, that you got more of this yarn for your coupons than you would if you chose wool.

Emu Knitpat no. 59
Some of the leaflets give instructions for knitting rugs - evidently there was a time (maybe after the war) when rug wool was no longer rationed, but ordinary knitting wool still was - clothes rationing finally ended in 1949.   Leaflet 59, for instance, gives patterns for slippers knitted with rug wool, and shows the whole family throwing off their coats in joy at the thought of getting home and putting their slippers on.

We have about 75 of these Knitpat leaflets in the collection at Lee Mills.  They reflect the necessities of rationing - making clothes out of small quantities of yarn, knitting warm vests, gloves and socks because fuel was also in short supply.  A reminder of a time when knitting wasn't a hobby - women had to knit, to make the clothing coupons go further, and they did their best to be fashionable too.

Monday 10 December 2012

Scrumptious gloves

I mentioned quite a while ago that I was knitting a pair of gloves.  It has taken me a long time to finish them - not only the knitting, but also weaving in the ends, of which there are a lot in a pair of gloves, and that's a job I really don't enjoy.  But they are done.  They were made for a friend and I posted them to her this week, so now I can show a photo of them.

The yarn is from Fyberspates, a 45% silk, 55% merino mix called Scrumptious (which it is).  It has a beautiful sheen, and the silk makes it very strong, so I hope that they will wear well.  The colour is Water - a lovely grey-blue.

This was the first pair of gloves I had knitted, so I consulted my friend Angharad who knows a lot about knitting gloves (and has a blog on the subject).  For the basic pattern, she lent me Ann Budd's  book The Knitter's Handy Book of Patterns, which has a chapter on gloves.  The stitch pattern on the hands is based on a brocade pattern in Mary Thomas's Book of Knitting Patterns, which she says was used on a knitted silk vest worn by Charles I (on the day of his execution in 1649, but let's not think about that).    I'm very pleased with them - they have turned out well.

Sunday 9 December 2012

War Crochet

On Friday at Lee Mills, the hardiest of the volunteers were looking through boxes of assorted crochet downstairs in the cold.  (The rest of us were sorting pattern leaflets upstairs in the warm office.)    In one of the boxes, they found some wonderful filet crochet items from World War I.  One is a small piece with little strings of beads (alternately blue and clear glass) around the edge to weight it down - a milk jug or sugar bowl cover, to keep off the dust or flies.   Such covers are usually circular, but this one is rectangular, presumably because that shape fits the "Success to the Allies" slogan better.

The other item is a small table cloth (about 33 in./85 cm. square), in plain white cotton with an edging of filet crochet.

Along each side is the slogan "Welcome home" with some sort of naval ship on either side, and in each corner there are crossed British and French flags and an anchor.

To go with these, the week before I had found a bound collection of World War I women's magazines at Lee Mills.  They are in very poor condition, but mostly readable, and they are full of crochet patterns, including a few "war" designs.

Waterplane design, Woman's Own, January 15 1916 

"A Patriotic Tea Cosy", Woman's Own, March 11 1916

The "Welcome Home" cloth is touching, because presumably it was made in anticipation of a sailor coming home on leave, or at the end of the war, by someone in his family.  But the "Success to the Allies" piece doesn't seem very helpful to the war effort, although at least it does acknowledge that there is a war on. The magazines do have quite a few patterns for garments for the armed forces, mainly knitting patterns, but there are probably more patterns for decorative bits of crochet (doyleys, fancy edgings, and so on). Given our current view of the horrors of the First World War, it seems callously frivolous to spend hours on fine crochet work rather than something more useful, but maybe it seemed different at the time.

Monday 3 December 2012

Huddersfield Architecture

The Christmas decorations in the Kingsgate shopping centre in Huddersfield this year feature a series of panels hanging from the roof, showing some of the local buildings that are important architecturally.  It was good to see architecture being celebrated, though I can't help feeling that the panels look a bit out of place surrounded by greenery, red ribbons, etc.

It was good to see Neaversons featured - a lovely Art Deco china shop, which is now a "tea house and restaurant".   


Two of the University buildings are shown - the Ramsden Building and the Creative Arts Building. The Ramsden Building is the original building which developed eventually into the University from the Technical School and Mechanics’ Institution, while the Creative Arts Building is one of the new buildings on the campus.

Ramsden Building
Creative Arts Building
The George Hotel is famous as the home of Rugby League.  It is also the home of Tuesday Knit Night (though not quite so famous in that role).
The George Hotel
The other buildings shown on the panels include the railway station, the parish church and the town hall, all in the town centre. The Victoria Tower on Castle Hill is 2 or 3 miles away, but it's a local landmark and can be seen from most places in the town. 

Westgate House

The local building material is sandstone - very good quality sandstone is still quarried near Huddersfield.  So when Westgate House was built in the 1920s, it was probably the only building in town not built of stone.  It's mostly glass on, I think, a steel frame - it still looks surprising.  

And one of our favourite buildings is there - Lindley Clock Tower, designed by Edgar Wood in 1902.    

Lindley Clock Tower

Sunday 2 December 2012

Bedspread, 1837

Because I'm dealing with the publications collection at Lee Mills, I don't usually see much of the collection of knitted and crocheted items that is gradually being recorded.  But occasionally, the volunteers working on the inventory let me know that there is something I ought to see.   The week before last, they called me over to see a bedspread.  It is knitted in white cotton, in diagonal strips in a variety of stitches,  and is in very good condition.  And the maker included a panel with her name and the date:  Hannah Smith - 1837.

It is about 7 feet by 9 feet, and the yarn seems to be about 4-ply/fingering thickness, so must have taken a lot of work.    It is one of the oldest items in the collection (as well as one of the biggest).   Finding it was thrilling - it makes the hard work at Lee Mills worthwhile when things like this turn up.   There are a few more photos of it on the Guild's web site here, though they don't really convey any idea of its size, or how stunning it is to see it in reality. 

No-one working at Lee Mills currently had seen the bedspread before, or was aware of its existence. Although there was a brief record of it, in the old files at Lee Mills, things were lost following the flood in December 2010 and we don't know whether any item has survived until it actually appears as the contents of the boxes are recorded.  So finding something like this feels like excavating buried treasure.      

Friday 30 November 2012

Born & Bred

Earlier this week I went to Leeds to see my dentist - I had broken a piece off a tooth.  (Flossing my teeth!!  Although he says that it was undoubtedly cracked already and the floss just dislodged it.  And that I shouldn't stop flossing.  Well, he would, wouldn't he.)  While I was in Leeds, I got a bus to Headingley, with my old person's free bus pass, and went to Baa Ram Ewe to pick up a copy of Ann Kingstone's new book, Born & Bred, that I had ordered.

Born & Bred was launched at Betty's Café in Harrogate last Saturday, during the Knitting & Stitching Show.  The designs in it were inspired by places in Yorkshire, and use yarn from Yorkshire sheep breeds.  Ann has published it herself in partnership with Baa Ram Ewe and it is full of really gorgeous designs.  The photographs are gorgeous, too.

Betty's was the appropriate place for the launch - it is a Yorkshire institution, and one of the designs is a tea-cosy named after it.  Not one I'm going to knit - I have no need for a tea-cosy as I don't drink tea.  But if I wanted a tea-cosy, this would be the one to choose.  (That's a Ripon Morris man in the background, btw.)

I had a preview of most of the designs in the book, because I see Ann regularly at Knit Night (Tuesday evenings in the George Hotel).  I decided quite a while ago which one I'm going to knit first - a pair of fingerless mitts called Baht 'At.  There is a hat to go with it, called (as no one from Yorkshire will be surprised to know) Ilkley Moor. For anyone else:  there is a famous Yorkshire song which begins "On Ilkley Moor Baht 'At".  Baht 'At means "Without a Hat" and the song describes the dreadful things that might happen to anyone who ventures onto Ilkley Moor hatless. 

Baht 'At mitts
The mitts and the hat are designed for Titus yarn, which is a wonderful mixture of Wensleydale and Blue-faced Leicester wool with alpaca.  I have had a skein of the yarn for a couple of weeks now - I explained here that Baa Ram Ewe were going to send me one.  Since it arrived, I have been waiting impatiently for the book to appear - although I really should finish at least one of the projects I am already working on before starting another.

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Knitting and Stitching

I went to the Knitting & Stitching Show in Harrogate on Thursday - a good day.  I have been once before, two years ago, and wrote about it here.  The show was, as usual, very busy - there were two knitters I know on Huddersfield station, the Leeds-Harrogate train was full of knitters and stitchers,  and by the time we got to the exhibition centre in Harrogate, we were following a crowd.  I went with a firm intention not to buy any yarn, and I didn't, although some of it was hard to resist.  (I may want more yarn, but I don't need it, as I keep telling myself.  And even though I don't need more yarn, I seem to have acquired quite a lot recently.) 

Of course, I bought lots of other things.  A while ago, a friend sent me a pattern for a traditional Japanese cloth bag, after I had admired one that she made.  (I think it is for carrying your bento box.)  I have been looking for suitable fabric to try out the pattern, and found some on a stall selling Japanese textiles.
Fabric from Euro Japan Links

I bought a few small Christmas presents around the show, and some Christmas decorations made by Nicola Flint, who was one of the designers chosen by the Embroiderer’s Guild for their Graduate showcase and the knitting and stitch shows this autumn.

I also admired the work of some of the finalists for the UK Hand Knitting Assocation's knitted textile awards.  I especially liked the work of Naomi Partington.  There was a 3-D collar/scarf/necklet that she had made that intrigued me. It seemed to be a collection of small overlapping pieces of knitting, all curling independently and joined together to form a circle round the neck. I'm not sure how she had stiffened the pieces - maybe she knitted it with a combination of wool and wire?  Beautiful, anyway.   

I also enjoyed an exhibition of embroideries by Anglia Textile Works.  There were several pieces by Sara Impey, who seems to specialise in text-based quilts and embroideries. My favourite of her pieces in the exhibition was Roadside Litter.  Her introduction says "Tattered sheets of polythene and plastic bags can remain trapped and visible in hedges, as if they were absurd fashion accessories.  The British hedge could use some fashion advice." - which starts off as a not very startling observation, and then veers off into the surreal. Her embroidered text includes the lines, "You edgy hedgerows know your special forte/ Is styling garments from unwanted junk./ Plastic bags come almost pret-a-porter,/ Ideal for looks like vintage, grunge or punk" and finishes "In Springtime this advice will go to waste/ We're expecting a return to pretty florals." 

And - a great extravagance- I bought a subscription to Selvedge.  The price was reduced for the show, and you got a free back issue of your choice and a free gift as well.  So it was a bargain really. 

Monday 19 November 2012

Looking For Mary Quant

Emu 2561 - designed by Mary Quant
Last week at Lee Mills, I was searching for Emu pattern leaflets designed by Mary Quant.  She did two collections of knitting & crochet patterns for Courtelle, in 1965 and 1966, and Emu was one of the spinners involved.  I found one of the Emu patterns a few months ago, but I know there should be about 5 more.  I looked in the Emu boxes that we have already sorted - nothing there.  So last week, I searched the four boxes of Emu patterns that we haven't yet sorted.  And I still haven't found any more.  

It was disappointing, but not altogether surprising. Even though we have upwards of 50,000 different pattern leaflets (that's my current estimate), that still means that there are a lot that we don't have.  And the leaflets in the collection have almost all been used, so that it's representative of what knitters and crocheters chose to buy.  We are most likely to have the leaflets that sold well.  Although the Mary Quant patterns were stylish and fashionable, I suspect that they didn't sell in large numbers.  They would appeal to young women who wanted to make themselves a high-fashion outfit cheaply (or who could persuade their mothers to make one for them), but that might have been quite a small constituency.  And there were 27 leaflets in each collection to choose from, which would reduce the number of potential buyers for each one still further.

Ad for Emu 2562

Even so, I did hope to find more - especially as I have seen an ad for another of the Emu patterns, which you might expect to increase sales.  (That's what advertising is for, right?)

My fruitless search for Mary Quant patterns wasn't wasted effort, though. While I was looking for them, I did some rough sorting and in the process, added to my small collection of patterns celebrating the Queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977.  After that, I finished sorting the Emu patterns from the 1940s and 1950s (about 500 of them) - I'll write about the 1940s patterns another time.
Emu 3234 - Jubilee 77
And I also sorted some Sirdar patterns, with some Huddersfield University students who are working at Lee Mills, and another Roger Moore pattern turned up.  (I don't think the pipe suits him.)

Sirdar 1390 with Roger Moore

Sunday 11 November 2012

Talking about Elizabeth Forster

Yesterday, I went to London to give a talk at the AGM of the Knitting History Forum, on Elizabeth Forster.  The meeting was at the London College of Fashion, just off Oxford Circus.  It was a very good day, though it meant an early start to get to the College for 10.45.    I forgot to take a camera with me (how daft is that?)  so I cannot show you photos of the splendid Christmas decorations in Oxford Street, or of the wonderful pieces of knitting that had been brought to the 'show and tell' session  You'll have to make do with a couple of book jackets off the web, and the title slide for my talk.  The title was suggested by Sandy Black, and I thought it was great - there must have been lots of knitting pattern designers working at the same time as Elizabeth Forster, and we know very little about them. The designers of the patterns published in magazines or by spinners were hardly ever named.  We don't even know many of their names - they were invisible.  

There were several other talks in the afternoon - a really interesting programme.  Lise Warburg from Denmark talked about twined knitting or "knitting with both ends of the ball".  The idea is to give a thicker warmer fabric, though it is often very decorative as well, whether or not both strands are the same colour.  Lise traced the geographic spread of the technique and suggested that it might be related to the travels of the Vikings through Eastern Europe to Byzantium.

Jane Malcolm-Davies gave a talk about the Tudor Tailor project - specifically about the replicas of 16th Century knitted children's clothes that have been made, and the difficulties in writing unambiguous instructions for them.  She brought along some of the replicas:  vests, caps, mittens, socks and a swaddling jacket.  I think that I have seen the original of one of the vests (or one like it) in the Museum of London, and tried to figure out through the glass how it was made, so it was fascinating to be able to examine the replica closely.  

Mary Hawkins talked about her efforts to find the replica of William Lee's 16th century knitting frame that was made by Eric Pasold. She eventually tracked it to the Science Museum in London.  The museum was able to supply her with photos of the models (it turned out that there were two) taken some time ago (with one of the models upside down), but although they haven't lost the actual models, they don't know exactly where they are....

Sandy Black finished the day with a talk on the work of Maria Luck Szanto who was a postwar designer of couture hand-knitted clothes.   I had heard Sandy give a similar talk at the In The Loop conference in September, but actually got a lot out of hearing it again.  The clothes she showed were beautiful - often constructed from several oddly-shaped pieces, which came together in the workshop  in a feat of virtuoso tailoring.  Often the stitch patterns were very intricate too (and always beautifully executed)   - fine pleats, lace patterns graduated to fit the shape of the garment, brocade patterns combined with beading.  Maria Luck-Szanto features in Sandy's new book, Knitting: Fashion, Industry, Craft, which is on my Christmas list. 

Wednesday 7 November 2012

The Man with the Golden Pullover

Sirdar leaflet 1402
Did someone think that Roger Moore looked especially good in yellow, or was it just a fashionable colour for men in 1952?   I showed the yellow cardigan that he modelled for Stitchcraft here, and here he is on a Sirdar pattern too.  

I have seen this pattern before at Lee Mills, in fact, but it was a very creased and torn copy, mended with sticky tape that had gone brittle and yellow - it had not been treated with the respect and care it deserves.  So I was very pleased to see several copies in good condition when I started work on the boxes of unsorted/partly-sorted boxes of Sirdar leaflets last week. 

The pullover pattern is interesting in its own right.  The cables and the diamond pattern on the panels between the cables are based on a fisherman's jersey from Flamborough on the Yorkshire coast.  There is a photo of the original jersey on the back of the pattern.  Adapting vintage patterns has become a big thing, so it's good to see that 60 years ago the Sirdar designers were taking inspiration from traditional patterns. 

Monday 5 November 2012

Crepe Paper Crochet

I said last week that there are fewer treasures being found at Lee Mills now.  This leaflet isn't really a treasure, but it was an unexpected find - it had been mis-sorted into a box of Coats pattern leaflets.  It isn't clear from the cover, but the Dennison Manufacturing Company made crepe paper, so the leaflet gives you instructions for crocheting a hat out of paper.  From the cover design, I imagine that it dates from the late 1920s, when cloche hats were very popular.

The leaflet describes a laborious process.  First you have to cut the crepe paper into strips.  The instructions say "The paper may be cut in various widths from ½ in to 1½ in. [1 cm to 3.5 cm, approx.]  The wider papers naturally make a heavier straw and are more suitable for Winter Hats than the lighter ones."  Are they crazy?  Who wants to wear a hat made of paper in the winter?

Anyway, then you "Stretch and draw the strip through the lightly closed hand."   That seems a bit under-specified to me, but I guess that after stretching there should still be some give left in the crepe paper.

So then you are ready to start to crochet, and make the hat on the cover, which frankly is not worth the effort.  The woman is clearly not a supermodel, but I don't think the hat does her any favours either.  As well as all the folderol with crepe paper, there is a veil across the face;  you could evidently buy veiling at the time, and it is to have a strip of metallic ribbon sewn around the bottom.  And finally, "It is a great improvement to add a small ornament to the front of the hat."

Another pattern in the leaflet is for a hat with a brim, which looks slightly more attractive.

Finally, there's another helpful hint:  "Hats may be waterproofed by painting with Dennison Wax dissolved in methylated spirit."   And the leaflet goes on to give detailed instructions.  Even so, would you expect a hat made of paper to protect you from the rain?  Maybe the waterproofing was intended just to protect it from damp - you would expect crepe paper to absorb moisture and lose its shape,  without a protective coating.

Just reading the leaflet made me feel tired - such a lot of effort to make something so insubstantial and  flimsy, and not very attractive.  I wonder how many women made themselves hats following these instructions.  It sounds like genteel poverty - I think you would only do it if you couldn't afford to buy a hat, or anything but cheap materials, yet felt that you had to wear one.

Wednesday 31 October 2012


For the last couple of weeks, Sainsbury's supermarket has been selling "carving pumpkins" for Hallowe'en  - not with the rest of the vegetables, but with all the other Hallowe'en paraphernalia.  They were remarkably cheap, so I asked if they were suitable for cooking as well as for carving into lanterns, and was told that they were perfectly edible, but had been selected because they were a regular shape and even colour. 

So I bought one, and have cooked several meals from it:
  • 20% went into a North African Pumpkin and Chick pea dish from Claudia Roden's Tamarind and Saffron.  Pumpkin with chickpeas sounds a little bland, but it was actually very tasty.  (4 portions)
  • 20% made a pumpkin risotto, based on the recipe from Valentina Harris's Risotto! Risotto!      I left out the pancetta, because we hadn't got any, and it was fine without.  (2 portions)
  • With the rest, I made two batches of the delicious Pumpkin and Sage soup  from Susan Crawford's blog.  (approx. 8 portions).
Three recipes new to me, all very successful.  I have not cooked much with pumpkin before, except pumpkin pie.  That's OK, but in spite of all the sugar and spices you put in, it still tastes vegetable to me.  These savoury dishes are a much better use of it, I think.  

And the pumpkin which made all these dishes cost me £1.50 - remarkably cheap.  I'm sure that's less than the usual price when it's not Hallowe'en.  Jane Grigson, whom I trust completely on cooking matters, says in her Vegetable Book that whole pumpkins will keep for months, so I bought three more to keep for later.    Nice for us, though I don't see how anyone can grow pumpkins and make money, when the supermarkets sell them for only £1.50.

Monday 29 October 2012

A Small Treasure

I said a while ago (here) that sorting publications at Lee Mills had progressed to the point where all the many boxes of "Patterns Unsorted" had now been through at least the first stage of sorting.  Although that was a good thing, a downside is that we are much less likely to come across unexpected treasures.  A box labelled "Patterns Unsorted" often contained a complete mix of all kinds of papers - magazines, patterns torn out of magazines, newspapers cuttings, etc. -  as well as pattern leaflets. And occasionally, something really special.   Now we have been through all those boxes once, so we more or less know what we have, and there won't be any more surprises.

But there are still a few treasures that have been forgotten.  Last week, one of the other volunteers was looking through a bundle of letters and found a  postcard, inside the letter from the donor.   It's a birthday greetings card and was sent to a girl called Mildred by her "Auntie and Uncle" in 1933.  Presumably, Mildred liked to knit. Or wear stripy jumpers.   (The original photo was black and white, or rather sepia, and was coloured by hand, so the lurid yellow, green and orange colour scheme may be just the colourist's imagination.)  And she must have kept the card, probably for a long time - it was eventually bought by the donor at a fair some 70 years later.  

I know that Montse Stanley collected postcards with a knitting theme.  (Her collection of all kinds of objects related to knitting is housed at the University of Southampton, while the publications in her collection are a component of the Knitting Reference Library at Winchester School of Art - I visited the Knitting Reference Library while I was in Winchester for the In the Loop conference in September, but I have not seen the rest of her collection.)   In an article in The Knitter, Linda Newington (librarian of the Knitting Reference Library)  explains that Montse's  husband Thomas Stanley had a postcard business, and she started her own collection through going to postcard fairs with him.   But as far as I know, this one is the only postcard in the Guild's collections.  We shall certainly treasure it. 

Friday 26 October 2012


One of the things we were looking at for the display of picture sweaters at Yorkshire Wool Week was a child's sweater with Postman Pat in his van on the front.  Some of the items in the collection have a pattern with them, or a note of the pattern that was used or who designed it, but not this one.  Then yesterday I was sorting a box of Wendy patterns at Lee Mills, saw the pattern and recognised it.  I found another pattern, too, that was obviously designed to go with it, to knit Postman Pat himself and his black-and-white cat - both patterns were designed by Joy Gammon. 

Although it was satisfying to be able to reunite the sweater with its pattern, I am not actually very fond of Postman Pat. We once drove all the way through France, from Boulogne to Provence, with only a cassette tape of Postman Pat stories to entertain our daughter, who was then about four. After a while, we realised that the tape was faulty and had the same two stories on both sides. (It took a while to realise, because all Postman Pat stories sound pretty much the same - people talk about the weather and say "Cheerio!" a lot.)  That sort of thing rots your brain.

Wednesday 24 October 2012

The Cherry Brandy Sweater

Before we went to Istanbul, I looked out some picture sweater patterns at Lee Mills for the display at Armley Mills.   I think my favourites (because they are often a bit peculiar, not because I want to wear them) are the patterns that promoted various products.  When picture sweaters were popular, a lot of advertisers seized the opportunity to design their own  - like the Stergene elephant sweater and the British Coal "Only a real coal fire will do" sweater that I wrote about here.  

Sometimes the sweater was only tenuously associated with the product - there is nothing on the elephant sweater to remind you of Stergene or even of washing clothes.  But sometimes, the sweater was essentially an ad for the product - it's a neat trick if you can persuade people to advertise your product for free (and even knit the ad, at their own expense).   Here's another promotional sweater, for De Kuyper Cherry Brandy, designed by Wendy Wools. The design on the front of the sweater is the label from the front of a Cherry Brandy bottle, and the stand-up collar has the words "EXTRA FINE" knitted into it, echoing the label around the shoulder of the bottle.  Essentially the sweater is meant to look like the bottle.  It looks quite opulent, with its rich colour scheme of green, black, red and white with gold lurex.


According to a magazine cutting that I found with the pattern, it wasn't originally planned that it would be published.  The sweater first appeared in a TV ad (still viewable on YouTube, see below), and the company subsequently were "inundated with enquiries for the pattern".  I wonder how many people actually knitted it and wore it?   It does seem to me a bit odd to want to wear such a blatant ad for an alcoholic drink.  Did the knitters who asked for the pattern think it was a cool design, or were they committed cherry brandy drinkers?   

Monday 22 October 2012

Yorkshire Wool Week

This week has been Yorkshire Wool Week  at Armley Mills Industrial Museum in Leeds, organised by the Baa Ram Ewe yarn shop.  I went to the closing event today - a class given by Amy Singer of Knitty on designing a lace shawl.  She was teaching what she calls "plug-and-play"  techniques that you can use to turn any rectangular or square lacy stitch pattern into a triangular shawl.  It was a lot of fun, and I now have a test swatch of my chosen lace pattern and a tiny knitted triangle which in time will grow into a much larger knitted triangle, i.e. a shawl. 

We all got enough yarn to make a sizeable shawl.  The original plan was that it should be Titus, a new wool and alpaca yarn developed for Baa Ram Ewe, and reviewed in Knitter's Review  earlier this month.  But the review was so favourable that the shop has run out of Titus, so instead we got 4 balls of  Excellana, a British wool yarn that comes in a range of lovely vintagey colours.  Mine is eau de nil, a very 30s colour (or "Nile Green" as it says on the ball-band, which isn't half so evocative).  And we get the Titus yarn as well, when they get some more in stock.  Lucky us!

At Lee Mills, we had put together a display of some of  the Knitting and Crochet Guild's collections for Yorkshire Wool Week.  Now that the collections are better sorted and recorded, it's possible to choose a theme and find a suitable selection of items.  This one was of picture sweaters (mainly from the 1980s).   When Verity of Baa Ram Ewe came to visit Lee Mills and discuss what should be in the display,  she saw some picture sweaters and thought they were completely charming. ("Bonkers" was the word she actually used.)

I took some photographs of the display before I packed up the sweaters to bring back.  Judging by the reactions of the people at this morning's class,  they created a lot of interest - especially one with a picture of the Ribblehead viaduct, with train.  That was one of four by Sandra Inskip with Yorkshire landscapes in natural grey sheep colours, all beautifully knitted.

Another sweater with salmon (?) leaping up a waterfall and integrated mittens in the shape of a fish's head also attracted a lot of attention (in a "What on earth?!" kind of way).   The mittens are enormous - it must be intended for a large man.  It was paired in the display with a beautifully-made cardigan with a landscape all round the body as well as on the sleeves, involving different textures as well as a whole range of subtle colours.   If picture sweaters are at all acceptable, that one is my favourite.

There were some rather more ordinary landscape sweaters, too, and two wonderful creations with a tiger and a polar bear.   (I'm sure I have seen someone wearing a polar bear sweater recently.  Hopefully, it was in a spirit of irony.) 


 And there was also a panel of children's picture sweaters. If a child is small enough, you can put it into any clothes you like, so these may not be a product of 1980s - more the effect of adults thinking that children in picture sweaters are really cute.

The handiwork in some of these sweaters is admirable.  I still don't think that you should wear a knitted picture of the Ribblehead viaduct across your chest.  Of course, it was different in the 1980s - we didn't have any taste then.  
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